We’ve been in the business of anthropomorphising Brands for a while now. We talk about expressing the ‘Brand personality’. We ensure our Brand has values. We get very serious about this stuff, we call them ‘core values’. We spend a lot of time asking people to engage with our Brand. We help facilitate relationships with our Brand. But then we get jealous and appoint ourselves Brand Guardians. In short, we’ve been treating Brands as people and making their wellbeing our professional responsibility,
Shouldn’t we stop for a moment and ask our Brands if they’re happy?
James used his ‘meet the author’ talk to discuss what it might take (assuming it’s remotely possible in the first place) for an individual, family or even a society to be genuinely happy. By way of background, James coined the phrase Affluenza, wrote the parenting guide “How Not to F*** Them Up”, and is now advocating ‘Lovebombing’ – giving your child complete control (and emotional support) for 48 hours as a way of re-setting their emotional thermostat. As a speaker, he’s an acquired taste, but his insights were eminently applicable and grounded in fairly deep science.
While discussing childhood, parenting, materialism and the impending collapse of the economic system, he also offered some insight into the ‘dark triad’ of CEOs and other business leaders. Reassuringly, your boss is composed of equal parts psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism (and I imagine a lot of heads are nodding out there while reading along).
After dissecting all the things that make everyone so miserable (parents, work, materialism, Tony Blair), James summed up by offering a really useful and interesting checklist of the traits of mentally healthy people.
Here’s Oliver James’ recipe for happiness:
1. Living in the present
2. Two-way communication (knowing when to listen and when to assert your voice)
3. Insight (understanding how your childhood affects your adulthood) and empathy (understanding how you are perceived by and affect others)
4. Playfulness (child-like wonder and enthusiasm)
5. Vivacity and vitality (these are not the same as hyperactivity)
6. Authenticity (which, importantly, is not the same as sincerity)
So if we roll with the metaphor of Brand-as-personality for a moment, we could probably take this recipe and use it help us nurture ‘mentally healthy’ or happy Brands. That is, Brands that people want to engage with and form a relationship with.
The 6 things happy, mentally healthy Brands do:
(with apologies to Oliver James)
1. They live in the here and now: forget globally-centralised, 3-year brand strategies, happy brands live where you do and react to the same environment and times that you and I are living in.
In practice: agencies that are run more like newsrooms, global strategy with local input and real-time marketing.
2. They listen as often as they speak: set and forget broadcast models show brands have a ‘tin ear’. Listening for insights, alert for trends and reactive to change, Happy Brands also know when to assert their voice and have the self-confidence to make their opinions and presence felt.
In practice: social listening, empowered staff and a well-defined scope of expertise that your Brand can offer as a ‘gift of knowledge’.
3. They understand their heritage and their sphere of influence: Nike and athletics, Volvo and safety, IBM and technology. Happy Brands don’t deny they were shaped by their childhood, and they use that to their advantage. Constant, fashion-driven re-invention displays a lack of maturity. In practical terms: operating within a Brand’s wheelhouse and realising when a scenario is not appropriate for them to be present (Kenneth Cole, we’re looking at you). These narcissistic brands believe they are always the main character in their own story.
In practice: take the time to understand your Brand’s original raison d’être and then update that for the here and now.
4. They embrace play as a valid form of expression: Healthy, happy brands have a lot in common with human kids – they regard creative play as their ‘work’. Google’s ever-changing, often playful homepage is a perfect example. Taking yourself too seriously demonstrates a lack of self-awareness in humans and Brands, limiting themselves to only themselves as atopic, often behave the same way.
In practice: loosen up on the ROI metric-a-thon and provide a way for your fans to use your Brand to express something they enjoy. If you are accused of ‘just playing around’ – you may well be doin’ it right.
5. They show vivacity and vitality: Being unafraid to display bursts of unbridled enthusiasm (red bull let a guy fall from space) and also passion is a very appealing trait. When this passion is a passion shared with the audience, the Brand starts to feel like it is part of a tribe – it believes in the same things as we do. Instead, many Brands see themselves as the tribe, which we can only join via purchase.
In practice: create brand experiences and service that contribute in a useful, meaningful and helpful way. Re-consider the hyperactive ‘content factory’ approach that is merely evidence of industry.
6. They value (and practice) authenticity: When Oliver James explained that this was not the same as sincerity he illustrated his point with the example of Tony Blair, who was sincere in his admission that he knew Iraq did not have WMDs when he authorised military action. James believes Blair used his sincerity (“I sincerely believed it was the right thing to do”) as way of apologising for his lack of authenticity (“I knew I didn’t have the proof I needed, so I made it up”).
The practical corollary for bands here is in the field of PR and crisis management, where authenticity is going to be seen as more forgivable for a Brand than manufactured or self-serving sincerity.
The challenge now is for agencies to adapt their structure and their Operating Systems to be more ‘parental’ and less managerial. A happy brand is one that people want to hang out with and that has to be agencies’ number one objective, right kids?
About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+
About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.
* I really have to take a moment to declare that I found the Singapore Writer’s Festival, on the whole, to be a pretty frustrating experience. It’s not a brand I’m ready to have a relationship with.